Brooklyn developer accused of swindling vulnerable homeowners out of valuable properties
Who is Brooklyn real estate developer Yuval Golan?
Depends on who you ask. Golan is alternately lionized as the borough’s “savviest” businessman — or denounced as a fraudster duping vulnerable New Yorkers out of suddenly valuable properties.
Golan, owner of pricey homes across Kings County, was sued at least five times since 2005 for allegedly taking advantage of sellers.
The 44-year-old Golan has often targeted vulnerable elderly people, persuading them to sign contracts without a lawyer while offering obscenely low prices for high-priced homes, according to court records and Daily News interviews with his accusers.
“Yuval tricks people,” said Ellen Harris, who joined her brother in a lawsuit against Golan to keep their Boerum Hill home. “If you’re vulnerable in any way he’ll attack you on that level. He comes off as very nice but he’s sneaky.”
Her brother Anthony Harris, 58, sold his half of their childhood home to the real estate developer in 2014 for $700,000 — but claims Golan still owes him $400,000 on a property with an estimated value of $3 million.
“I truly believe I was taken advantage of,” said Harris.
Golan’s attorney, Garfield Heslop, says Harris signed a “purchase-money mortgage” that allows Golan to pay off the $700,000 over time. The siblings’ suit is ongoing.
Harris is not alone in his angst. In another particularly jarring 2019 case, Golan bought a Prospect Heights home valued at $3.6 million for $50,000.
Surrogate Judge Margarita Lopez-Torres declared Golan’s deed to the property void, rejecting the buyer’s claim of obtaining the home from a woman who was the sole heir to the Carlton Ave. property.
More than a dozen people now claim in court they are the legitimate heirs to the home.
On his website, Golan writes “Unlike other buyers we will pay you top dollars that your property is worthy of. We offer a buying price that meets prevailing market rates.”
Yet Lopez-Torres revoked Golan’s deed to a Crown Heights home in 2018 and returned the property to its prior owner after the buyer purchased one-third of the nearly $2 million building from a woman who was terminally ill and addicted to Oxycontin, according to her family.
Golan paid just $10,000 for her share of the property.
“The alleged conveyance … for a paltry sum of $10,000, strikes the court as subject to a claim of unconscionable conduct,” wrote Lopez-Torres in her decision.
An appellate court reversed Lopez-Torres last year and returned the deed to Golan. But the judge has rescinded two other deals made by the businessman.
A judge in another case, while ruling there was no proof of fraud, said it was clear that an elderly and sickly woman was taken advantage of when Golan purchased her $450,000 Prospect Lefferts Gardens home for $200,000 less than its value in 2005.
Elderly seller Vita Vaughn was in poor health and not represented by an attorney when she signed the contract with Golan.
“That [Vaughan] was taken advantage of, there is no doubt,” said Judge Thomas Aliotta in a ruling in favor of Golan in 2010. “But in the absence of proof of lack of capacity, the actual value of Ms. Vaughan’s home at the time that she agreed to sell it is knowledge that she must be charged with being able to acquire.”
Vaughan was admitted to a hospital two years after the sale due to advanced dementia and could not represent her own interests in the court case against Golan.
“They really destroyed her doing this,” said one person who knew Vaughan.
The allegations against Golan have played out against the backdrop of a skyrocketing real estate market in some Brooklyn neighborhoods where buildings bought for next to nothing in the mid-20th century are often worth millions of dollars.
Between 2008 and 2018, for example, homes in the zip code encompassing Boerum Hill, home to the Harris building, increased in value by a median change of more than $400,000, according to a Property Shark report.
A law enforcement source said that the developer’s deals do not rise to the level of criminality because the sellers signed contracts — meaning no matter how bad the deal is, it is legitimate.
Heslop says that the alleged victims of Golan’s fraud are actually just experiencing “seller’s remorse” after realizing they should have sold their homes for more money.
“There is not a scintilla of credible evidence that my client has acted in any way other than a savvy business sense,” Heslop told reporters.
Golan’s portfolio includes a building in Downtown Brooklyn believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. He co-owns the property with his partner Samiel Hanasab, who outraged preservationists after filing papers to demolish the building last year.
Despite all his favorable deals, Golan declared bankruptcy in 2019 amid a divorce from his wife. The trustee on the case alleged he was hiding millions of dollars in real estate that he held under corporations.
But Golan’s lawyer, Heslop, insisted this was just another part of his business acumen.
“Donald Trump, who is the savviest of all businessman, has filed for bankruptcy numerous times,” Heslop said, comparing Golan to the former president, whose casinos have gone bankrupt in the past.